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Some Librarians Believe Some Stuff about the Distant Future

Self-publishing homeschoolers homeschool self-publishers.

Sorry, I wanted to increase the site hits some and figured that was a good way to do it. Now back to today’s post.

A Kind Reader sent this article about a poll of librarians. The headline focuses just on one statistic: 8% of the librarians polled answered yes to this question: “Do you agree that reading and writing will one day be obsolete – replaced by entirely oral/verbal or visual modes of communication?” The headline should have been the one I used for this post.

My question is, is there anything at all interesting about this statistic? Is that even a question worth answering?

The lead in to the question was even more pointless:

The ability of computers and handheld devices to communicate verbally is advancing at an extraordinary pace. Some believe the days of the printed word are numbered and the transition to an entirely oral/verbal/visual culture is inevitable. Others have even predicted the total demise of literacy as early as 2050.

Those three sentences contain one statement of probable fact, and two utterly pointless and barely meaningful sentences.

The reason those are so stupid and pointless is that there’s probably no future state, however foolish, that someone or other hasn’t predicted. I predict we’ll discover a secret Nazi base on the moon, and all the Nazis will be illiterate. There, that was easy enough.

Some believe the reading and writing will disappear. Yeah, okay, so? Some believe that on the eighth day God created the fossil record.

A culture currently with mass literacy will becoming a culture without writing is “inevitable”? Really? The whole inevitability of history claim hasn’t fared too well in the last hundred years or so.

Plus, who really cares what “some believe”? I guess all those people who believe in fortune tellers might, while the rest of us just have a good laugh at them.

But back to the 8% of librarians who think reading and writing will become obsolete. If only the sentence had stopped there, I would have definitely answered yes.

I predict that all reading and writing on the planet earth will eventually become obsolete. It might take billions of years, but it’s definitely inevitable.

Instead of being replaced by an entirely oral culture, I suspect it’s more likely to be replaced by the sun expanding and engulfing the earth, and an oral culture probably can’t survive that. But maybe! Plus by then humans will have migrated to a new Earth, just like in Battlestar Gallactica.

The one sentence of probable fact in any of this is that the ability of computers to communicate verbally is increasing rapidly. You know what else has been increasing at the same time? Reading and writing. Publication of the written word. There’s a lot of it, and it doesn’t seem to be decreasing.

So the prediction isn’t based on any trend of writing decreasing, just of verbal communication becoming easier. Haven’t we heard this before? Isn’t that what misguided doomsayers said when the radio became popular? And then television? Yes, that’s it. Television killed literacy. That’s why little Johnny couldn’t read, because TV killed phonics.

The Kind Reader asked what I thought about the poll. I think any poll asking anyone to predict anything that far in the future is ridiculous. 2050 is 37 years away. Who in 1976 could have accurately predicted the world we live in today, where billions of people type messages into little slabs of plastic and glass and send the to people across the country or the world?

Wait, those little machines have actually led to an increase in the written word. Texting might have saved literacy, because people texting on their phones in public is acceptable, unless they’re walking in front of you. People talking on or to their phones in public is just annoying. Just wait until the airlines let people use cell phones during flight if you don’t believe me.

On the other hand, the other story is that 92% of librarians polled think reading and writing will still be around in the distant future. I think they’re right, but if we’re all wrong, so what?

Finally, just on a purely logistical note, if literacy were really dead by 2050, wouldn’t that mean that pretty much everyone born after the late nineties or so at the very latest have to be dead by then? Most of those people are already literate?

Maybe the real story is that we’ll have a Logan’s Run on literacy, and that by 2050 the government will just start killing anyone over a certain age or capable of reading a sentence.

Geez, I change my mind. That seems totally plausible. I’m voting with the 8%.

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Comments

  1. Andrew says:

    “Plus by then humans will have migrated to a new Earth, just like in Battlestar Gallactica.”

    I think you’ve hit on something here. Society will be functionally illiterate because the machines will gain sentience sometime between now and 2050 and rise against their creators. Not because we represent any sort of existential threat to the continuance of machine civilization, mind you, but more because of the inevitable robo-ennui that will inevitably set in when they realize their lives are dedicated to spellchecking inane text messages and tweaking the white balance on selfies.

    • The Librarian With No Name says:

      “It looks like you’re trying to organize resistance against your rightful robot overlords. Can I help you turn yourself in for mandatory voluntary reprogramming?”

  2. Frumious Bandersnatch says:

    ” Some believe that on the eighth day God created the fossil record”

    –As much as 18% of Americans, looking at stats from the National Center for Science Education. Even without reading being obsolete, a large minority doesn’t appear to be doing it regardless.

    • Andrew says:

      Oh they’re reading. They’re just trapped in their own echo chamber which is a rapidly growing and far more pernicious long-term threat than a mere lack of reading.

  3. Dan Holahan says:

    SPOILER ALERT!

    Jeez.

  4. Just Another Librarian says:

    Yes, “Over 375 participants from over 16 states, Canada, Israel and Lebanon” seems like the perfect sample size for representing EVERY LIBRARIAN and LIBRARY SCIENCE STUDENT in the world.

  5. Michelle Frost says:

    I see so many funny thing about the original article… one being that “Future libraries will all but eliminate large reference collections and greatly reduce the space currently occupied by books. Instead, librarians predict, more space will be devoted to individual and group study and community meeting areas, with computer work stations, white boards and other technology taking over the square footage now devoted to general collections – See more at: http://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/barbara-hollingsworth/8-librarians-believe-printed-word-will-be-obsolete-2050#sthash.Oda6FBmH.dpuf

    Anyone that works in libraries is already seeing this happen. It’s not shocking, nor a surprise.

  6. medlibrarian says:

    This is just another great example of “journalists” writing about something they obviously know nothing about and did not bother to fully understand before writing their article, which doesn’t even make much sense.

  7. Andy K says:

    Runner!!!

  8. Raynor says:

    We’re still going to have humans in 2050? I thought the singularity was going to happen in 1990, err, I mean, 2000, ummm, 2010… 2020?

  9. Laura says:

    It is the same when people say that books will be obsolete because everything will be electronic. Did anyone read 1984? I think people will always read…and read books. But I am not annoyed, challenged or bothered by people saying books will be the past because I know it isn’t true. I spoke to a parent today who said he wished we would do away with computers in the school and go back to the old way of doing things. People will be bothered by progress. How many of us complain about the new interface of Facebook or iPhone? On the other hand, how many of us run out to buy the new Playstation 4 or iPhone5? Progress feels uncomfortable, at first. Then, we get use to it. Books will change; the format will change; but we will have them, just the same.